Lighthouses already existed in ancient times in the form of fires lit on elevated positions along the coastlines. This way, mariners could be navigated to avoid dangerous rocks or reefs similarly as the modern-day lighthouses do.
One of the most famous lighthouses of the ancient world was the Lighthouse of Alexandria, a structure that is considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world but which was destroyed by a series of earthquakes.
Many of the lighthouses we know today were built in either the 18th or 19th century and have saved countless lives. The invention of the “Fresnel Lens,” a compact lens that transformed the light source of these structures, is often dubbed as “an invention that saved a million ships.”
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most famous lighthouses around the world, important structures that serve a practical purpose, and which have become popular tourist attractions as well.
1. Bell Rock Lighthouse – Angus, Scotland
The Bell Rock Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located off the coast of Angus, Scotland. It’s a remarkable structure for both the fact that it was constructed between 1807 and 1810, and that it stands in the North Sea.
It stands 35 meters (115 feet) tall and is the oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse in the world. This has earned the structure a listing as one of the 7 wonders of the Industrial World.
Even though it’s over 200 years old, the masonry work on which it stands hasn’t been replaced since, a testimony of the high-quality work by Scottish civil engineer Robert Stevenson.
Official website: Bell Rock Lighthouse
2. Point Bonita Lighthouse – San Francisco, United States
Point Bonita Lighthouse is located at Point Bonita which marks the utmost southern tip of the northern entrance of San Francisco Bay. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most popular buildings in San Francisco, is located just east.
The original version of the lighthouse was built to avoid shipwrecks during the California Gold Rush, an event that went into full swing during the 1850s. The current lighthouse was completed in the 1870s and first lit in 1877.
The location of the lighthouse is remarkable in the sense that it can only be reached via a suspension bridge. It’s the only lighthouse of its kind in the United States and was the final lighthouse on the West Coast to be manned as well.
Official website: Point Bonita Lighthouse
3. Bodie Island Lighthouse – North Carlina, United States
The Bodie Island Lighthouse is an iconic landmark in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and has been since its completion in the year 1872. Two lighthouses preceded it but were built in a location that has now flooded.
It’s one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States at over 115 feet (48 meters) and one of only a dozen tall brick lighthouses in the United States. This has resulted in a listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The lighthouse has been under the full management of the National park Service since its automation in 1953 and is a popular tourist attraction in the region. Since 2013, it’s possible to climb it as well during the Summer months.
Official website: Bodie Island Lighthouse
4. Lighthouse of Genoa – Genoa, Italy
The Lighthouse of Genua is the main lighthouse in the Italian city of Genoa just south of Milan. The original version of the structure was completed in the 12th century and the tower we see today was first lit in 1543.
It’s completely constructed in stone and stands 76 meters (249 feet) tall, making it the fifth-tallest lighthouse in the world today and the second-tallest that wasn’t built in modern times.
What’s even more remarkable is that the structure including the rock on which it was built stands 117 meters (383 feet) tall, which would make it the tallest lighthouse in the world and as high as a modern-day skyscraper.
5. Makapuʻu Point Light – Hawaii, United States
Makapuʻu Point Light is located on the island of O’ahu, one of the islands that make up the U.S. State of Hawaii. It’s located in the utmost southeastern tip of the island, just east of the Hawaiian capital of Honolulu.
The need for a lighthouse near the most densely populated area of Hawaii became urgent in the early 20th century. It was completed in the year 1909 and is remarkable for featuring the largest lens of any lighthouse in the United States.
The area around the lighthouse features the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail, one of the most popular hiking destinations on O’ahu. This is understandable because the views are pretty amazing.
Official website: Makapuʻu Point Light
6. Enoshima Sea Candle – Kanagawa, Japan
The Enoshima Sea Candle is one f the most famous lighthouses in the world because it’s a combination of a functional lighthouse and an amazing tower with an observation deck.
The observation deck of the tower is located at a height of 59.8 meters (196 feet) and 119.6 meters (392 feet) above sea level. This provides an amazing view of the surroundings of the small tidal island of Enoshima and the Tokyo Metropolis to the northeast.
The lighthouse was only completed in 2003 and stands right next to the former location of an older lighthouse that dates back to 1951. This lighthouse was dismantled and its duties were transferred to the modern structure on New Year’s Eve 2002.
Official website: Enshima Sea Candle
7. Lighthouse of Cap de Formentor – Mallorca, Spain
The Lighthouse of Cap de Formentor is commonly known as the “Formentor Lighthouse” and is located in the utmost northern tip of the island of Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean that are part of Spain.
The lighthouse has a history that dates back to the year 1842, a time in which this remote location was only accessible by sea or by a mule track through the mountainous region. This made the construction especially complicated.
It’s the highest lighthouse on this island group as it’s situated at a height of 210 meters (688 feet) above sea level. This not only makes it one of the most prominent landmarks on the island out also the perfect place to enjoy scenic views.
8. Hook Lighthouse – Wexford, Ireland
The Hook Lighthouse is also sometimes referred to as the Hook Head Lighthouse and is located on the Hook Peninsula. This peninsula is located in County Wexford in the southeastern part of Ireland.
It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in the world and has been continuously operating since 1142, which makes it the second-oldest of its kind on the planet.
The structure was turned into a tourist attraction in the year 2001 after the old keepers’ house was turned into a small museum and visitor center that exhibits artifacts related to the history of the lighthouse.
Official website: Hook Lighthouse
9. Tower of Hercules – A Coruña, Spain
While the Hook Lighthouse is the second-oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the world, the Tower of Hercules is the oldest. This remarkable structure was already in use in Roman times and dates back to the 1st century A.D.
The current lighthouse is the renovated version of the ancient Roman structure and was completed in the year 1791. It’s located on a small peninsula just 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the center of the city of A Coruña in Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain.
Until the 19th century, this intriguing structure was known as the “Farum Brigantium.” Farum is the Latin name of the Greek word “Pharos,” a word also used to define the Lighthouse of Alexandria or the “Pharos of Alexandria.”